The agony that is the bye week (at least for us fans) is over and the Riders return to the field Saturday night against the hated Calgary Stampeders. In a surprising turn of events, the game is sold out. I realize that the fact that its Hall of Fame weekend likely contributed but still for an 0-7 team to sellout out is very impressive. It either means we have a province full of diehard fans or a province full of masochists
I can offer you two ways to view our chances of victory in Saturday’s clash:
1) We are rested off the bye and starting to get healthy (with Green, MacDougal and Dressler all expected to play); Brett Smith looked like a playmaker last week and probably would have led us to victory had we not been as prone to illegal occurrences as Subway Jared; it will be a raucous sold out crowd; Calgary has yet to win on the road; with BC and Winnipeg struggling, this could be the jump start to a win streak that improbably returns us to the playoff discussion.
2) We are winless, can’t defend the pass and are playing a top team in the West division
Feel free to choose whichever viewpoint speaks to you as both are valid. As for me, I am firmly a believer in viewpoint #2. I know that aside from the Edmonton game we have been playing some good football and with a few plays difference could have multiple wins this season. I know Brett Smith looked really good last game. I know Calgary has been playing some mediocre football (well aside from last week when they embarrassed Ottawa worse than the people whose names were leaked from Ashley Madison). I know all this and don’t care. While I believe there will be wins in our near future, I do not believe this is one of those times. I think we will be very competitive and I expect a hard fought game… I just expect the end result to be an 0-8 record. (How’s that for an uplifting read on a Friday?)
Offensively, it all hinges on whether Brett Smith can continue progressing as a starting QB. History is littered with QBs who had one great start but failed to turn that into a successful career. This list includes names like Dinwiddie, Elliot, Butler, Porter. I do think Smith will continue to shine but it’s far from a sure thing. Feel like a broken record here but we need to establish a strong run game with Messam/Space Cowboy to ease the pressure on him. It will be tough sledding though as Calgary has the #2 run D. We also need to give him the freedom to run when needed to move the chains. Adcock is out and when facing Charleston Hughes (who I think is the best pass rusher in the CFL) that scares me. Hopefully we give some TE/RB blocking help to whatever side Hughes lines up on. Getzlaf the Stamp Killer is also out.
We need to focus on attack the short/medium inside routes with our slots as that tends to be the soft spot in the Calgary D. Unless we are taking a deep shot I would shy away from the wide-side passes as the Stamps have playmakers to make us pay for those. We also need to get things going early in the game to keep the crowd alive. In 4 of our 7 games we have failed to score a 1st quarter point and have a TOTAL of 13 first quarter points this season. That needs to change. Calgary has given up just 1 rushing TD this season… if we want to win, that also needs to change.
Defensively I encourage you to pray to whatever higher power you subscribe to and rub whatever lucky charm you have (provided its legal to do so) because with opponents completing a league high 74% of passes against us and a league high 17 passing TDs allowed, our pass defense are going to need all the help it can get. It all starts up front. Our front 4 has come back to life of late and they need to take advantage of a favourable match-up against the Stamps MASH unit. Credit Calgary’s depth, they lost an all-star centre and tackle in the offseason, lost a starting guard and 2 starting tackles… and numerous other injuries (I honestly lost count) but are still holding up alright all things considered. Though the combination of the O-line issues and a lack of Cornish has their ground game floundering. They are averaging an uncharacteristic 86 yards per game and a lowly 4.6 yards per attempts (2nd worst in the league).
Sounds like Brackenridge will be moved up to LB with LeGree taking over safety. This likely comes at the expense of Macho which means the coaches are finally addressing his substandard play which has been on display all season (I assume Macho moves back to HB and bumps Suber out but am just guessing at this point). With Cornish out, the key cog in that offensive wheel is Marquay McDaniel. Rogers and Fuller are dangerous big play guys but McDaniel is the workhorse and chain mover (he is also apparently not a big Mo Price fan... then again, who is?). Doughty looks to be out so it will likely be up to Knox or Unamba to patrol the middle and slow the ground game. I think we are definitely up that task. The bigger concern is finding a way for our porous pass D to slow the likes of Rogers, Fuller, McDaniel and West. We need a strong pass rush to harass Mitchell. Calgary’s O has actually been rather mediocre this season (likely a product of being on their 8th string O-line) but they imparted their will on an Ottawa defense that has been playing much better than ours.
As I said, I expect a strong, hard-fought game from the Riders. I expect a close game. But I expect a loss. I try not to over think things and Bo Levi Mitchell throwing to Fuller/Rogers/McDaniel against our non-existent pass D is a good enough reason for me to expect a loss.
Stamps by a late 4th quarter TD.
Despite my gloomy outlook, I’m actually excited for the game. I love evening games, especially against the Stamps. Plus we get to honour Geno and Eddie Davis as they get deservingly called to the Hall of Fame. I’ll be fired up and I hope everyone else is to including the team. I want to see some fire… I want to see some emotion… I want to see someone other than Chris Best lead this team out of the tunnel. Brackenridge should fly out of that tunnel and go start jawing the Stamps. Let’s ramp up the nastiness level in places other than the washrooms.